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Talib Kweli

For students of alternative hip-hop, Talib Kweli — full name Talib Kweli Greene, which is nowhere near as hip — is a venerated elder statesman. His erratic, jackhammer flow is straight-up archetypal, simplistic and free of parable, yet with an inordinate amount of consequence. Black Star, the 1998 album Kweli and Mos Def went halfsies on, almost single-handedly relegitimized the genre that had all but been swallowed up by the emergence of gangster rap. (The Fugees do deserve a bit of credit here as well.) And Kweli's subsequent solo albums, most notably 2007's surprising Ear Drum, have helped stay the course. Despite clearly being the less likable, less marketable half of Black Star — there's something about the way Mos Def talks that just makes you want to hug him, which he's parlayed into a reasonably successful acting career — with regards to sheer underground influence and cachet, Kweli is arguably the more important member. Plus, he looks way cooler in a flat-brimmed New York Yankees baseball cap.

 
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